What is Worship?

by Pastor Don Willeman, Th.M.


What is worship? Let us begin with a definition and use that as a basis for expansion. Worship is the conscious, purposeful, and affective magnification of the Creator by the created. Now, the magnification of the Creator by the created can be done by any number of created entities. The Bible tells us that even “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps. 19). In other places the stars are spoken of as singing to the Lord and the trees as clapping their hands, all of which are gestures of praise. The point is that God has so purposed His creation to magnify the majesty of His character and being by reflecting His glory. Likewise, animate non-personal creatures exist for this same end of reflecting the beauty and power of their Creator. Indeed, God Himself points to these creatures as evidence of His own awesome power and wisdom (Job 39-41). Furthermore, certain classes of the angelic creatures seem to exist but for no other purpose than to express and magnify the innate holy beauty of God. Isaiah testifies to his own vision of these seraphim positioned above the throne of the Almighty God. They were calling out to one another “Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory” (Isaiah 6:3). This is likewise worship.

By the given definition, the angels are the only ones mentioned above that are both conscious and purposeful in their affective adoration of God. This is not to argue against what has already been proposed that the Creator has purposed all of creation to reflect His glory. Rather, it is our purpose here to apply the broader concept of worship to the specific activity of worship performed by human beings. It is a central assumption of the Bible that humans are meant to be the “prized worshipers” of the Creator. Indeed, it was the Creator who purposed this by uniquely creating us in His own image. Our chief end is the worship of the One who made us, the One whose image we bear.

God Created Us for Worship

Our ministry of worship is first manifested in our Maker’s initial command to tend the garden and be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1 and 2). In other words, he called on mankind to reproduce a diversity of human creatures all bearing the beauty and glory of the divine image and who therefore would be by nature worshipers. Moreover, our ministry “in the garden” (i.e. our personal vocation is an act of worship) was meant to be a ministry of worship. The “garden” of the world was intended to be the “art gallery” displaying portraits of the Divine Character, and therefore our vocation is meant to be a ministry of worship. Just as the owner of an estate has his glory reflected in the upkeep of the grounds, so God is glorified and therefore worshiped in the function of our particular earthly callings. It is worth noting at this point that this ministry of worship in our vocation continues to be the goal on this side of the fall, as well as, on this side of the cross. The Apostle Paul exhorts us as an act of worship (Rom. 12:2) to present our whole selves (body and soul) to God in the employment of our individual vocations (Rom. 12:1-8, see also Eph. 4:1-32). Our “tending the garden” is meant to be understood as an act of worship.

God Redeems Us for Worship

After Adam’s fall marred “the garden” and the divine image, God ordained what we might call the institutional means of worship. Why is it that God began calling particular families and groups of people to employ means for the performances of communal worshiping acts? Since God’s ultimate purpose never changes, it logically follows that He ordained these institutional means with a view toward the eschatological fulfillment of mankind’s original purpose, namely that all the peoples of the earth would worship Him. Initially, He chose one family and then one nation to be his worshipers. His promise to Abram was that he would be a blessing to many nations. This is partially seen in the fulfillment of the massive number of Abraham’s physical descendants in the nation of Israel, the Jews. However, its ultimate fulfillment was brought about through his one, unique descendant, Jesus the Messiah (Gal. 3:15-16). With the advent and saving work of the Messiah came the commissioning of the Church. The ethno-geo-political walls restraining the institutional worship of Yahweh were torn down, and the true worship of the true God was made available to all nations through the gospel (Ephesians 2:11-22, notice the worship motif: “holy temple” – see also John 4:24). Thus, the history of redemption is a history of the expansion of the worshiping community to the whole of humanity. The end of this expansion will be in eternity when a multitude “from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues” are standing before the Object of all praise worshiping and adoring Him forever (Revelation 7:9). Thus, it can be argued that, from the Designer’s perspective the “final end” in the eternal state is the archetype for all institutionalized worship within time. God being the Master Planner has purposed present day worship to be patterned after the coming eternal “Grand Finale”.

Two Vital Components of Worship

There are two vital components of worship: the aesthetic and the affectional. First, we will look at the aesthetic component. It is here that we consider the beauty of the object of our worship. As was mentioned a moment ago, in the final state of worship the Lamb is in the center of the throne (Revelation 7:17), and therefore is the center of worship. Thus, I would argue that for our present day worship to be biblical it must have as its primary focus the apprehension of this Jewel of Heaven, the Lord Jesus, the image of the invisible God. Worship must highlight and lead us to the beauty of the Person and work of Christ. This aesthetic component is absolutely necessary to true worship. Worship is a movement toward ultimate beauty, or better yet, toward the One who is ultimately beautiful. The Psalmist testifies with much vigor at this point: “Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness” (29:2); “One thing I have asked from the LORD . . . to behold the beauty of the LORD” (27:4); “Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God has shone forth” (50:2); “And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us” (90:17); “Splendor and majesty are before Him, Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary” (96:6).

True worship should move the worshiper toward the appreciation of the Object of worship, but this is not all. The second aspect of worship, the affectional component, flows from the first. Our eyes are directed toward the beautiful Person and work of Christ so that our hearts will be so moved that we will be pleased to attribute praise to the proper Object of worship. Thus, God’s pleasure in Himself, which He manifests in His creation, is then returned to God through our pleasure in Him and our praise of Him. A survey sample of biblical language regarding the proper worship of God is enough at this point to establish the necessity of this affectional aspect of worship: “Delight”-Psalm 37; “Love”-Matthew 22; “Sweetness”-Psalm 119; “Taste”-Psalm 34 & 119; “Pleasure”-Psalm 149:4. In Summary, the aesthetic aspect moves us toward an affective response and thus this completes the purpose for which we were created.

Forms of Worship

Forms in our corporate worship tend to be conventional as viewed through the whole history of redemption. The forms of worship that God ordains in the Old Testament (e.g. Levitical sacrifices) are forbidden in the New Testament (see the book of Hebrews). So there seems to be a good amount of freedom given to the churches to creatively orchestrate their worship services. Nonetheless, it is arguable that two ordinances of worship are central for this age:

1) The Word – 1 Timothy 4:13

2) The Table – 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.

Yet, even with these there are still vast amounts of creative opportunities open to the adventurous church.


In conclusion, we were made for the worship of God. Likewise, worship is the ultimate goal of redemptive history. True worship directs our attention to the glorious beauty of the One who created us and redeemed us and then moves us to an affective response. Within this framework the Bible gives the modern worshipers much creative license to employ one’s whole being in the activity of praise.